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Food & Dining // Food & Beverage Focus
Jo McGarry

Mike Swerdlof

Mike Swerdlof of Azure Restaurant in Waikiki. Jo McGarry photo

Occupation: General Manager, Azure Restaurant, Waikiki

Where were you born and raised? I was born in American Samoa. My mom is originally from Hawaii, so I grew up here, and then I moved to Europe after 10th grade, living in Switzerland and Spain. But I kept coming home.

You couldn’t find a place more different from Hawaii than Switzerland, certainly in terms of punctuality. (laughs) Yes! It’s the extreme opposite of Hawaiian time. You have to be very specific in Switzerland. Everything runs on time. You’d never be late for class … but it’s beautiful, like Hawaii.

What are some of your favorite food memories? My father was a commercial fisherman in Kona, so eating fresh fish right off the boat sashimi-style is a wonderful memory. We always ate fish, and whenever I would see my grandmother she always had a pot of rice and sour poi made – and green beans. She made the best green beans, and she fed us whether we were hungry or not.

So, in both countries the restaurant industry drew you in? I mainly snowboarded in Switzerland (laughs) and then, as I continued my eight-anda-half-year college plan at UH, I worked in restaurants in Hawaii and realized that that’s really where I wanted to be.

Once you got serious you headed straight to fine dining? Yes. Pacific Café really started it. Around that time I decided I was really enjoying food and wine, and wanted to make it a career.

When you’re surrounded by the finest food and the most gorgeous views, where do you go to hang out? Side Street Inn. And I’ve been trying the newer restaurants … the gastropubs are fun. There’s a good restaurant dynamic right now in Honolulu.

Do you cook at home? (laughs). No. Not really. Well, maybe pork chops. They seem to come out fairly well.

What do you recommend from the Azure menu to first-timers? Always the fish, without a doubt. There are several preparations – the herb-roasted, high-heat preparation is stunning.

It seems like you have a lot of fun with wine pairing, too. Absolutely. The thing we try to do here is to take a simplistic approach to the best wines available. We don’t go with a ton of big-brand wines, but rather focus on the unique. We have about 12-14 wines by the glass that you most likely won’t see anywhere else.

With whom would you most like to have dinner at Azure? I’d honestly say it would be my grandmother. She died last May, and she was unforgettable. It would be wonderful to have one last conversation with her. And maybe I might tell her that I never liked sour poi.

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